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D: Emma Forrest / 99m

Cast: Jamie Dornan, Lola Kirke, Jemima Kirke, Ben Mendelsohn, Billy Crystal, Alice Eve, Jennifer Grey, Scott Caan

Andrea (Jemima Kirke) is a recovering heroin addict (straight for a year now) who wrote a successful literary novel when she was twenty-one, but who hasn’t written a word since. She has a one night stand with a doctor, Nick (Dornan), who has had recent literary success himself with a memoir of his time in a war zone. For the first time since her recovery, she feels a connection to Nick and finds herself pursuing a relationship with him. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Tara (Lola Kirke), is in a relationship with Martin (Mendelsohn), a former musician who’s much older than she is. When she meets a rabbi, David (Crystal), and he offers to help her reconnect with her faith, Tara finds herself smitten by him, and unsure suddenly about her feelings for Martin. Both sisters find themselves dealing with their own insecurities as they navigate these new relationships, and having to also deal with the fallout of the decisions they’ve made. Things are made even more difficult when Tara doesn’t attend a comeback gig that Martin has arranged, and an unexpected truth about Nick’s memoir is revealed…

The feature debut of English writer/director Emma Forrest, Untogether is another of those LA fables that revel in presenting a handful of characters with a surfeit of insecurities, and traits that keep them from ever being happy, no matter how hard they try. Your patience for this sort of thing will be dependent on how many similar movies you’ve seen already, because although there’s no shortage of pointed humour and affecting drama in Forrest’s debut, ultimately the problems and the issues her characters face aren’t all that original. Andrea is another in the long line of movie novelists who struggle to find that elusive second book, and detest the negative attention that comes with it. Nick isn’t a writer, and his easy success rankles with her, and it’s this and her own doubts as to whether she’ll ever write again that causes Andrea to do what she can to sabotage her relationship with Nick, and take steps toward self-harming. However, a lot of this perceived angst is just that, perceived, as Forrest’s script never takes Andrea to a dark enough place to make her as sympathetic as she should be. You just want her to get over herself and stop brooding about what she hasn’t got, and to focus instead on what she has got.

Unfortunately, the same is true of Tara. While we can assume that she likes older men given her relationship with Martin, her sudden attraction for David is never convincingly portrayed, despite good work from the ever reliable Kirke, and Crystal in a serio-comic role that carries a lot of warmth. This leaves the relationship between Tara and Martin to founder more and more as the movie goes on, becoming less and less interesting as Forrest moves her characters from Point A to Point B by way of convenience instead of natural progression. As for Nick, Dornan is stuck with a role that has no arc, and makes little impact, leaving Andrea’s infatuation for him something that comes across as more curious than plausible. Though her script struggles to avoid the clichés inherent in such intertwined stories, Forrest has better luck in the director’s chair, and keeps the viewer involved thanks to a combination of placing the emotion in a scene front and centre, and a cast that enters into the spirit of things with a commitment and gusto that smooths over the screenplay’s rougher patches. By the end, you may be glad that it’s all over, and that the journey wasn’t worth the time and the effort, but there are enough good moments along the way to make sticking with it a reward in itself.

Rating: 6/10 – another tale of lost souls in LA (just how many can there be?), Untogether sees its characters tasked with taking risks in their lives, but having no idea what to do, or being too afraid to do so in the first place; frustrating for its lack of a coherent message, but worth it for the performances (Mendelsohn is particularly effective), perhaps it’s an indication that Forrest should focus on directing instead of writing.